13 Oct Therapists, We Practice What We Preach
“Should the cabin experience sudden pressure loss, stay calm, and listen for instructions from the cabin crew. Oxygen masks will drop down from above your seat. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, like this. Pull the strap to tighten it. If you are traveling with children, make sure that your own mask is on first before helping your children.” – Airline Safety Instructions
I frequently use these instructions as an analogy with clients. Today, I’m thinking of how this analogy applies to therapists as well. We are in a situation that is unsafe for many people. COVID-19 is a threat to public health, economic wellbeing, social support, and much more. It is also a threat to mental health. People are experiencing all sorts of emotions including fear, anger, and sadness. Therapists are not immune to these feelings.
Lately, I’ve been noticing an increased amount of panic and frustration in the therapeutic community. This epidemic has been a real disruption to everyone’s practice. Clinicians are having to make tough decisions and work with new technologies. Insurance companies are modifying their coverage. Licensure boards are changing their rules. It’s a lot to keep up with. As if practicing therapy wasn’t challenging enough already, now all this is flying at us. It’s only natural for mental health practitioners to feel the effects.
There are two things we must keep in mind right now maybe more than ever before. The first thing is that our clients are still there, still have the same issues they had before COVID-19, and may have increased symptoms now because of COVID-19. In other words, our clients need our help. Additionally, there is a new crop of potential clients out there who are struggling to deal with any combination of the previously mentioned impacts of the virus. We are needed.
The second thing we have to keep in mind and the real reason I am writing this is that WE MUST TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES. When I look at those airline safety instructions, two things stand out.
- “Stay calm” – We cannot help other people decrease their anxiety if we are flooded with anxiety ourselves. Our clients can read us. They often know when we are not doing well emotionally even when we think we are keeping it together. Plus, we simply cannot practice as well when we are emotionally overwhelmed. That’s just a fact. So, we have to be calm.
- “Make sure that your own mask is on first before helping your children.” – There is a really important reason the airline gives this instruction. If you try to help someone else get their mask on before yours is on, you will pass out from lack of oxygen. Then, you will be unable to help anyone. You have got to take care of yourself before you can adequately care for someone else. This is hard for many of us to do. We all got into this profession to help people. It’s easy for us to focus on that and ignore our own needs. We have to stop that destructive habit.
WE MUST PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH. Think of all those things you use with and recommend to your clients to help them manage their emotions. Are you doing those things? If not, it’s time to start. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Meditate. Eat healthy foods. Practice yoga. Talk to supportive family and friends even if it is via phone or social media. Do enjoyable things with your family. Listen to music you love. See a therapist. USE THOSE THERAPEUTIC EXERCISES YOU LIKE TO USE WITH CLIENTS ON YOURSELF. Examine your automatic thoughts and core beliefs. Create new, productive thoughts and beliefs. Use those coping skills. Practice those grounding techniques when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. You’re a mental health professional with all this education and experience. You know the path. Follow it.
Let’s do what we can to make the world, or at least our little part of it, a better place. That starts with managing ourselves. We can do it.